A Week at Art Basel Miami Beach: Parties Rivaled Art

Art won

Painting With Nas
Near the end of his set on Thursday night at Miami’s Ricochet Bar & Lounge, Nas acknowledged that he was in town during Art Basel, and announced that he was going to make an artwork on stage.

A white board was delivered, along with washable markers and a small set of paints. “Is this real paint?” the Queens-born rapper asked. “Water paints? I can do that shit too.” He picked up a paintbrush and made a red mark on the board. Then a gunshot tore through the speakers, and he launched into his 2002 hit “Made You Look.”

“They shooting, aw, made you look,” he growled, shots cracking behind him. “You a slave to a page in my rhyme book.” As he rapped, he worked the canvas, gently—a dab here, a dab there—taking his time, and then switched to marker.

“My shit looks really fucking stupid right now,” he declared as the song ended, examining his spare, abstract work.
The evening’s host suddenly suggested an auction, to benefit a children’s cancer charity. He explained that artist Rashid Johnson, who was perched on a banquette to the right of the stage, was willing to pay $5,000 for “the Nas original.” Who would pay more?

A hand shot up in the audience. “$6,000!”

Photographer and filmmaker Luis Gispert, sitting next to Mr. Johnson, wearing a sleek vest, threw his hand up, offering $10,000. Another bidder went in for $12,000. Mr. Johnson, who had been rapping along with Nas for most of the night, had some fight in him. He grinned, offered $14,000 and won.

One could not have made up that sight. But it had been that kind of evening. Before Nas’s set, women in white Big Mac T-shirts had circulated, offering the burgers, apparently because McDonald’s had helped sponsor the event. Before that, R&B phenom Theophilus London served as opener, plowing through his tracks, and then announcing he wanted to hear Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Paris.” He danced with his band on stage, lip-synching the lyrics as the crowd of about 200 sang with him.

Accompanied by conga drummer Leon Mobley, Nas had performed “N.Y. State of Mind,” “If I Ruled the World,” “You Can Hate Me Now,” “Got Yourself a Gun” and half a dozen other of his hits. The crowd was in the palm of his hand. But he still seemed genuinely moved by Mr. Johnson’s gesture, pausing to thank him in front of the crowd.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever sold art in my life,” Nas said. “That shit made me feel good.” —AR

Getting The Swing Of It
Here is something that should not have worked but did: Nate Lowman’s bullet-hole paintings installed in a batting cage in Yankees power hitter Alex Rodriguez’s sprawling new bayside home sounded like a gimmicky idea in theory. In practice, so to speak, it was kind of brilliant. Mr. Lowman, with the help of adviser Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, had attached the paintings to the inside of the cage’s netting, so that they looked as though they’d been punctured not with bullets but with baseballs. Hanging on the walls surrounding the cage were Mr. Lowman’s smiley face paintings, the smiley faces transformed, in this setting, into spectators at the big game. A-Rod had a party to show off the installation, and it was attended by Mr. Lowman and the sundry artists in his downtown clique—Hanna Liden had collaborated on a work hanging in the ball player’s house—as well as dealers like David Zwirner and gallerist/curators like Alex Gartenfeld. A woman standing near the pool was heard to say, after gazing around at the assembled guests, “It’s nice that art can bring hipsters and jocks together.” —SD

Lit Up
But if it is a by-product of art that it brings people together, there was no better exemplar of this than the Electric Tree that artist Mark Handforth had created in the wilds of North Miami, far from the hubbub of the fair. Mr. Handforth, who was born in Hong Kong, raised in the U.K. and attended art school in London and Frankfurt, has lived in Miami since 1992, and has said he considers most all art to be public art. The warm glow of the fluorescent bulbs attached to the giant banyan tree in Griffing Park had a warm day-for-night effect, created an equalizing nimbus. Sotheby’s chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer, due later at some party for Ferrari, had made the trek, as had curator Matthew Higgs. But there were no art people and otherwise here, there was just a bunch of people bathed in green/yellow light, standing around, talking, drinking plastic flutes of Champagne, liking art. —SD

A Week at Art Basel Miami Beach: Parties Rivaled Art